Daphnoretin is an active constituent of Wikstroemia indica C.A. Mey., which is widely distributed in the northwest and southwest regions of China. Previous studies have shown that daphnoretin has anticancer effects on leukemia, osteosarcoma and uterine cervix cancer cells. However, the effect of daphnoretin on human lung cancer cells has yet to be elucidated. In the present study, daphnoretin was observed to inhibit A549 lung cancer cell proliferation in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. Fluorescent microscopy and flow cytometric analysis showed that daphnoretin induced A549 cell apoptosis in a concentration-dependent manner. Western blot analysis also revealed that daphnoretin induced apoptosis through the regulation of the B-cell lymphoma-2 gene family in A549 cells. These findings indicate that daphnoretin may have potential as a therapeutic agent for the management of lung cancer.